NUTLEY, NJ - It has been a week since the worst day in recent Nutley history, and the community's response has once again surpassed all expectations.
On the morning of Jan 18, 2020, Spring Garden school parent Joe Caprio was traveling on Park Ave. with his family when he noticed the smoke of a house fire.
After calling emergency services, he sprang into action. Caprio immediately started hitting the doors and windows with his bare hands to get the attention of anyone inside. An older gentleman exited the home with signs of burns and soot marks on his body. He told Caprio that his 7-year-old grandson and daughter were upstairs.
Caprio reports that "I looked up the stairs and saw it engulfed with flames. There was nothing I could do. Would a braver man have run up the stairs, I don’t know... I’m torn." The fire department arrived at that time and acted immediately.
Caprio's account, posted on social media, was picked up by several news organizations.
TAPinto Nutley just as Mr. Russo was headed to the ambulance, and remained on the scene until most of the fire was knocked down. To the best of our knowledge, Univision was the only other news organization on the scene as the fire was still active. Another news outlet reported from the scene much later in the day.
The sights and sounds of that day are things that are too difficult to forget. There was a light snow falling, pure and white, a stark contrast to the orange flames and black and gray smoke coming from the home. There was a rumble in the area. It was like that film technique, where the sound is muffled in a car crash sequence, then suddenly all the sharp sounds of breaking glass are heard. But this rumble lingered. The sound was probably related to the engines of the various emergency response vehicles, bouncing off, and being muffled by snow and low cloud cover. It was eerie.
Neighbors from Park Ave., Whitford, and the surrounding area gathered in the street, on lawns, and porches. All watching, mouths partly open, almost as if they wanted to say something but couldn't find the words. Eyes up and down the street were wet, and tears flowed on both men and women. It was as if we all knew the eventual outcome, but thought, if only for a few moments that if we kept watching, it would all work out, because that's what's supposed to happen.
Fire Departments from Nutley, Bloomfield, Lyndhurst and Belleville were on the scene. EMS units from Nutley and North Arlington were also on the scene.
On an ordinary Saturday, these first responders would head home at the end of the day, and read stories about how their sports team defeated one of the other towns that was there. On this morning people from different towns, and different backgrounds, all came together with the single purpose of helping people in need.
It wasn't all Kumbaya that day. Shortly after the first stories were published, the usual suspects starting making derogatory remarks about taxes and fire departments on social media. A board member of the Kingland Manor Trust, and two board members of the Nutley Rotary club expressed their displeasure with TAPinto Nutley for not attending the Prohibition party at the manor. That party was held a few hours after the fire. In one of the phone calls, the Rotarian went so far as to state "how can you be the official news source of the town if you don't cover Kingsland Manor." While they were partying at Kingland Manor, TAPinto Nutley joined neighbors in mourning the Russo family. It was quiet, no cameras, no datelines, no news article, just people who saw and heard things that day, who wept and comforted each other in a time of tremendous loss. Many there had never met until that evening, and most of us felt an incredible sense of loss for having never met Amanda and her son.
Despite the negative reaction of a few, there was, and remains, so much more good that came from this event. The good reactions far outweighs the selfishness of a few nuts that went rancid.
People who never met each other before wept and comforted each other.
Joe Caprio felt so compelled do even more, that he set up a GoFundMe to help the family. The Russo Family House-Fire Fund.
The owners of Cowan's Public ran a fundraiser this week with all profits for the evening going to the family.
Nutley Family Service Bureau opened its doors this past week for individual and group counseling sessions for those dealing with what they experienced that day.
As the township continues to heal, TAPinto.net will continue to provide details regarding how our readers can help our neighbors following the worst day of their life as new efforts and fundraisers are announced. Our team is currently confirming the details of another fundraiser scheduled for February, details will be shared soon.)
(Photos for this article include some we previously published, and plus additional ones taken that that day.)
Since 2016, TAPintoNutley.net has been the only locally owned news organization serving the Township of Nutley, and is a member of the New Jersey Press Association. The Nutley Board of Commissioners first named TAPintoNutley.net the township's 'Official Electronic News Source' in 2019.
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